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Sunday, October 30, 2016

How ‘Shock Therapy’ Is Saving Some Children With Autism

Once Kyle is under, his mother leaves the room. A psychiatry resident places electrodes on Kyle’s temples and a brown bite block in his mouth to protect his tongue. A nurse compresses a green bag, sending oxygen into Kyle’s lungs and pushing carbon dioxide out—essentially hyperventilating him to lower his seizure threshold. Then, Irving Reti, the chief psychiatrist in the room, presses an orange button on a small machine in the corner, sending an electric pulse of 800 milliamps at a frequency of 30 hertz into Kyle’s brain for eight seconds. A few seconds later, Kyle’s chin clenches, his lips quiver, and his index finger starts to vibrate. A minute in, the nurse suctions some fluids out of Kyle’s mouth. Exactly 107 seconds after it began, the seizure is over.

In the past few years, some psychiatrists have stumbled upon a new purpose for the therapy: calming the brains of children with autism who, like Kyle, would otherwise pinch, bite, hit and harm themselves, perhaps fatally. The numbers are small, no more than 50 children treated in the U.S. in any given year, although no one knows the exact figure. But for this group of children, who are driven by uncontrollable, unrelenting impulses to hurt themselves, ECT grants a reprieve. “For some of these children who have tried every other treatment modality,” says Kellner, “ECT can be dramatically helpful and sometimes life-saving.”

Read more here.